Your belly isn’t feeling so well. You’re experiencing abdominal pain, bloating, or gas. You’re having trouble with your bowel movements — either they’re too loose, soft, and urgent (diarrhea) or they’re too hard or difficult to pass (constipation).
Everyone has gastrointestinal (GI) troubles like these once in a while. That’s completely normal. But in some people, these problems suggest more than just an occasional run of annoying symptoms. If you frequently experience GI issues that have no other medical explanation, you may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
April is IBS Awareness Month, so it’s an ideal time to learn more about this condition. Dr. Samuel I. Fink, an internal medicine specialist in private practice in Tarzana, California, can help you determine whether your GI symptoms are a sign of IBS. Read on to learn how to tell the difference between run-of-the-mill GI issues and IBS.
What is IBS?
IBS is a chronic condition that affects your large intestine. There are three types of IBS:
- IBS with constipation (IBS-C)
- IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D)
- IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M)
IBS strikes as many as 15% of adults. It is one of the most common GI disorders. Among people with the condition, about 40% have mild IBS, 35% have moderate IBS, and 25% have severe IBS, according to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders.
Anyone can get IBS, although roughly 60-65% of IBS sufferers are female.
People with IBS often find that specific situations or foods trigger their GI symptoms. These triggers cause the digestive system to be more sensitive, which can affect the action of the muscles involved in digestion and the production of stool.
For example, you may find that stress triggers bloating or cramping. Or you may notice that foods such as wheat, dairy products, sugar, fruit, high-fructose corn syrup, or sweeteners ending in “-ol,” such as sorbitol or xylitol, set off your diarrhea. Or eating high-fiber foods such as fresh vegetables or legumes cause gas.
If you have IBS, learning your triggers can provide the first step in reducing your symptoms. For many patients, avoiding triggers goes a long way toward feeling better.
Ruling out other problems
IBS is a functional disorder, which means that although it does affect the way your intestines function, it doesn’t cause damage to your intestine. But IBS is a very real medical problem that can interfere with your quality of life.
IBS is diagnosed after other GI conditions are ruled out. If you are experiencing IBS symptoms, Dr. Fink may order lab tests to make sure you don’t have other medical problems, but there is no specific test for IBS.
Depending on your specific IBS symptoms, Dr. Fink may suggest making changes to your diet, taking fiber supplements, or engaging in stress-reduction techniques. He might also recommend medications for diarrhea, muscle spasms, or pain.
If you’re experiencing GI symptoms more than a few times per month, or if they are interfering with your quality of life, Dr. Fink can help. He works with you to determine the cause of your symptoms and design a treatment strategy that helps you feel better. For more information or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Fink, call his office or request an appointment through this website.